Letter | Blue Mountains tunnel can be made to work

RELIEF VALVE: A tunnel through the Blue Mountains would relieve the pressure on skyrocketing house prices in Sydney.
RELIEF VALVE: A tunnel through the Blue Mountains would relieve the pressure on skyrocketing house prices in Sydney.

THE letter of April 18 by Peter Thornton (“Counting the cost of any Blue Mountains tunnels”), commenting on my letter promoting fast rail access under the Blue Mountains, requires answering to allow your readers to assess the situation.

Mr Thornton used the cost of the 57.09 kilometre Gotthard Base tunnel to forecast the likely cost of a rail tunnel of, say, 40 kilometres long under the Blue Mountains.

I do not agree that such a comparison is reasonable for the following reasons.

The Gotthard Base tunnel was constructed under the Alps in geologically challenging conditions – far different from the sandstone under the Blue Mountains.

Each of the two tunnels took approximately 10 years to excavate.

Excavation of two underground rail stations was included in the Gotthard tunnels, which would not be required in a tunnel under the Blue Mountains.

An engineer’s report, in regard to an 18-kilometre by 3.4-metre diameter tunnel, from Hazelbrook to Katoomba, part of a 40km tunnel complex to Winmalee, constructed in 1993-96 for the Sydney Water Board and costing $80 million, reports good tunnelling rock conditions.

The tunnel was completed within two years.

On this basis, a rail tunnel under the Blue Mountains is unlikely to strike the problems encountered in constructing the Gotthard tunnel, and is likely to be constructed in approximately four years.

The cost per kilometre is likely to be significantly lower.

In regard to the comments in Mr Thornton’s letter, re having to purge the tunnel from diesel fumes after a freight train had used it, my proposal envisaged that freight trains would be hauled by electric powered locomotives, not diesel powered, as would the passenger trains.

It is possible to use the same type of locomotive, such as the Siemons-built “Sprinter”, and therefore there would be no requirement to purge any fumes from the tunnel.

The electric powered British Rail Class 92 locomotives are an example and have been used to haul freight trains through the 50.4km English Channel tunnel continually since 1994.

Electric locomotives have many advantages over diesel and can be more powerful.

Queensland Rail have used the Siemons Class E40AC electric locomotives for the past two years to pull the huge coal trains. Three such locomotives pull the same weight of train which required five diesel locomotives previously.

Some modern electric locomotives, such as the Bombardier Traxx-AC, can switch to diesel power if required.

In regard to Mr Thornton’s comments on passenger traffic, I agree that provision of a tunnel and fast rail to the Central West on its own currently would not justify the expense, however, when it is linked to the establishment of a new city west of the mountains, the whole concept is then quite different.

It would be a conduit to relieve the housing situation in Sydney. Houses would be half the price, yet occupants would be able to commute to the Sydney CBD in under an hour.

A city with 50,000 inhabitants, with two-thirds commuting, would require 33 train services each way to Sydney every day, which would also grow with time.

When consideration is given to the number of houses required in Sydney to cope with the forecast growth of around 100,000 more residents each year, the new city, offering houses half the price, will be attractive.

I take note that the express train destination I quoted as Melbourne was incorrect.

It should have been destination Perth, served by the Indian Pacific.

The point I made in relation to the unacceptable low speed of a major intercity train between Lithgow and Bathurst still stands.

John Eccles